Book publishers, Internet Archive ask court to decide ebook-lending fight

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  • Internet Archive said its library program is protected from copyright claims
  • Publishers say program is a front for mass infringement

(Reuters) - A group of major book publishers and the Internet Archive both asked a Manhattan federal court Thursday to rule in their favor ahead of trial in a copyright dispute over the Archive's online library program.

The publishers sued the San Francisco-based Internet Archive in June 2020 over its free online lending of digitally scanned copies of their print books during COVID-19 shutdowns through its "National Emergency Library." They called the program a front for mass copyright infringement.

The Archive told the court Thursday that all of its books were legally bought and paid for, and that it should be treated like any other library.

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Publishers Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, John Wiley & Sons Inc and Penguin Random House argued that they had shown the Archive went "far beyond" normal libraries by "appropriating every in-copyright work it can find without license or payment."

Maria Pallante, the president of publishers' trade group the Association of American Publishers, said in a Thursday statement that the Archive "wrapped its large-scale infringement enterprise in a cloak of public service."

Archive attorney Corynne McSherry, legal director of the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Friday that the publishers are "seeking a new right foreign to American copyright law: the right to control how libraries may lend the books they own."

The Archive announced shortly after the lawsuit was filed that it would stop offering unlimited digital copies and limit them to one borrower at a time. It later told the court that it "does what libraries have always done: buy, collect, preserve, and share our common culture."

The publishers told the court Thursday that the Archive "freerides on the authors' literary contributions" and "aggressively competes with the Publishers' authorized digital works."

The publishers also filed declarations from people who said they had been harmed by the Archive, including author Sandra Cisneros, best known for her 1983 novel "The House on Mango Street."

"Real libraries do not do what Internet Archive does," Cisneros said. "The libraries that raised me paid for their books, they never stole them."

The Archive told the court Thursday that, like brick-and-mortar libraries, it was protected from the claims by the copyright fair-use doctrine.

"Never in the history of the United States have libraries needed to obtain special permission or to pay license fees to lend the books they already own," the Archive said.

The case is Hachette Book Group Inc v. Internet Archive, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1:20-cv-04160.

For the publishers: Elizabeth McNamara of Davis Wright Tremaine, Scott Zebrak of Oppenheim + Zebrak

For the Internet Archive: Joseph Gratz of Durie Tangri, Corynne McSherry of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Read more:

Book publishers sue over 'emergency' online library set up during pandemic

Book publishers say Internet Archive 'stonewalling' discovery

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at